Students at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, registered their support for the national campaign to remove the Higher Education Act's (HEA) anti-drug provision, when the Student Government Association (SGA) endorsed the campaign's resolution during the spring semester. The HEA drug provision, which denies financial aid assistance to students convicted of a drug crime, no matter how minor, has been the target of a campaign led by Students for Sensible Drug Policy (http://www.ssdp.org) and DRCNet, in coalition with an ever-expanding number of educational, civil rights and other concerned organizations. Now, students at Appalachian have gained the support of Chancellor Francis T. Borkowski, the second college or university head to speak out on the issue.
In a letter addressed to Rep. Cass Ballenger (R-NC), who had voted for the provision and who, as a member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee has been targeted by the Coalition for HEA Reform, Borkowski wrote: "I support without reservation our students' support of this legislation. As a lifelong educator, it is my experience that when given the opportunity to excel, the results with students who have past drug convictions has been overwhelmingly positive. The very fact that these students are taking the initiative to do something positive with their futures speaks volumes to their commitment to their education. It is counterproductive to deny education to any student, especially in communities that are already marginalized in today's society."
Borkowski then urged Ballenger to "take the words of these students to heart" and "consider supporting [the students] and the position of Appalachian State University."
The university chancellor did not come to that conclusion unbidden. According to the Appalachian State SGA Beat newspaper, SGA Senator Ian Mance, who was the main proponent of repeal in the student senate last spring, and Dustin Bayard, met with Borkowski to persuade him to support their cause. They were successful.
Mance headed a delegation that was set to meet with Ballenger in Washington on September 17 to hand-deliver the original (a copy had already been sent), but that meeting was cancelled in the wake of the September 11 attacks. "When I made the meeting, I had planned to bring a diverse group of students from Appalachian to meet with Ballenger, including members of the ACLU, SSDP, and the SGA," Mance told SGA Beat. "Now, we are planning to reschedule for the next time he returns to his home office in Hickory," Mance said.
"We believe that with the weight of the chancellor behind us, the SGA vote from last year, and the fact that we are the largest school in his constituency, Ballenger will have a hard time saying no," Mance added.
But Ballenger's office is in war mode and does not see repeal of the provision as a high priority. "Any further requests George W. Bush and his administration has as it moves forward with its war on terrorism will immediately be the focal point for both chambers, if any such requests are made to Congress," Ballenger chief of staff Dan Gurley told SGA Beat. "But that does not preclude any other bills that may come up before that, including the president's education bill, which I feel will be passed by both chambers. [Repeal of Section 484, the anti-drug provision] may be included in a conference committee report, but right now it's pretty far down the list," said Gurley.
Maybe another college president or two from his district could convince Ballenger to move it up the list.